Winning your fantasy baseball league is all about making the most of your picks in the final rounds of the draft.
Getting value out of those picks can prove to be difficult. Most owners resort to taking veterans with comeback aspirations with their final three picks. You'll often get more production from rookie sleepers with those picks, but only if you draft wisely.
The key is to take rookies who will have prominent roles for their respective teams at some point in the year—especially ones who will play from the start, and those are the ones we'll take a look at here.
To win your league, be sure to do your best and grab these talents in the late rounds of your draft.
Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
Owners taking Jose Abreu should rest assured knowing that he has little competition at first base. Adam Dunn will be the designated hitter, and Paul Konerko will receive sporadic at-bats at both first and DH.
The Cuban defector drilled 33 homers and drove in 93 while posting a .453 average in 2010-11. Those numbers are simply too valuable to overlook, and if you can put them up in Cuba, then you can post very respectable numbers in the bigs.
Cuban baseball expert Peter Bjarkman claims that Abreu could be one of the best hitters to ever come from Cuba, via Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today: "Abreu is a better hitter than either [Yasiel] Puig or [Yoenis] Cespedes, and he should be the best (biggest impact) Cuban player to come to the majors during the three decades of the defectors era."
Abreu might not be available in the remaining three rounds, so target him in the latter portion of the middle rounds. He's a great value pick who can easily give you 25 homers, 80 RBI and an average around .260.
Those are just safe predictions, though. He could very well give you even more.
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Yordano Ventura throws absolute gas, and the right-hander's dominant spring (1-1, 1.77 ERA) has earned himself a spot in the Kansas City Royals rotation. You'd be very wise to grab him before somebody else does.
Dustin Hockensmith of The Patriot-News points out everything you really need to know about Ventura as a potential owner:
His strikeout potential is off the charts, even if the rest of the game remains a work in progress. … only three pitchers in baseball matched Ventura’s career K rate in the minors (9.9) last season. … velocity makes life easier as he can reach back and hit triple-digits at will. … his career WHIP in the minors left much to be desired, but there’s reason to believe he can improve with a solid walk rate and swing-and-miss potential.
His propensity to put runners on might be a little scary, and you can be sure that his pitches will add up quickly if he can't get out of jams. This could result in more than a few five-inning performances, so be prepared.
The potential positives far outweigh the negatives, however, and Ventura will be able to give you a good amount of points per start despite short outings. His ability to strike out opposing hitters with his blazing fastball and good secondary pitches raises the question of the value of strikeouts over the value of wins.
Ventura will be the perfect example in 2014 of the value of strikeouts. Grab him in your draft.
Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds
Major League Baseball hasn't had this type of stolen-base threat since Vince Coleman in 1987.
When Shin-Soo Choo left the Cincinnati Reds this offseason, he opened the door for super speedster Billy Hamilton to take over. Hamilton stole the show last September, stealing 13 bases in 13 games (three starts). That's one steal per game—tough math, I know—making him a candidate to be the first man to steal 100 bases in a season since Coleman.
Simply put, when he's on base he's going to run. Not even a pitchout can stop him.
Bill Bender of Sporting News compares Hamilton to some of today's more prolific base stealers:
Given everyday appearances, Hamilton would without a doubt lead the league in stolen bases. Jacoby Ellsbury led the majors with 52 steals last season. Since 2000, there have been 36 players with at least 50 steals, 14 players with at least 60 steals and three players with at least 70 steals in a single season. Jose Reyes set the bar this millennium with 78 stolen bases in '07. None of those guys are quite like Hamilton. That's the exciting part.
The potential for 100-plus steals makes him a worthy draft pick—even if he doesn't hit particularly well. As long as his on-base percentage is high enough—at least 35 percent—he'll have value for owners.
Imagine a line of 100 steals, 15 triples, 20 doubles, 40 RBI and 100 runs scored. There's a chance you can get that from Hamilton this year.